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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, December 4

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will start with Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD celebrating low crime in New York City, especially the incredibly low number of murders and shootings in the city thus far this year, looking at data through November.

For his part, Governor Andrew Cuomo took a quick trip to Puerto Rico on Saturday to recognize New Yorkers who have been on the ground there, many helping to restore power on the island, and to pledge more help. Cuomo is just over a month away from releasing his 2018 agenda. Meanwhile, he is under increasing pressure to chart a path to Democratic reconciliation in the state Senate.

De Blasio and Cuomo also have at least one eye on Washington, D.C., where a tax reform bill is moving its way through the legislation process that could have drastic impacts on New York and New Yorkers. Both have been critical of the legislation, a version of which passed the U.S. Senate late Friday night with no public review, and is now headed back to the House of Representatives for discussion. Cuomo scheduled a conference call to discuss the GOP tax reform effort with the governor of California and governor-elect of New Jersey, and members of the media.

Another major ongoing storyline is the race for City Council Speaker. While the vote will take place among the 51 City Council members of the new class come January, manuevering among the eight candidates continues, and political dynamics will continue to change throughout this week and the rest of December, most likely.

Speaking of the City Council, there are several high-profile hearings this week, on progress toward closing the Rikers Island jails; on NYCHA's failure to test apartments for lead paint; and on school desegregation. The three are among a larger set of Council hearings as this Council class enters its final few weeks.

As always, there are many events to be aware of this week - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Mayor de Blasio has several events scheduled for Monday: at 11:30 a.m., de "Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner O’Neill will hold a media availability regarding crime statistics...There will be Q-and-A" with members of the media. This event will take place at 250 West 135th Street. At 7 p.m., "the Mayor will appear on NY1’s Inside City Hall." De Blasio will also speak at two events closed to the media: the Cities Thrive holiday reception at Gracie Mansion and the Queens County holiday party.

"On Monday, December 4, 2017 First Lady Chirlane McCray will host the second convening of Cities Thrive, an ever-growing network of nearly 200 cities working together to support a stronger, better funded and more integrated behavioral health system nationwide. Mayor Bill de Blasio will give an address during the second day of the conference. The coalition launched late last year and consists of a bi-partisan group of mayors from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico who are committed to driving mental health reform on local and national levels. The coalition expands the key principles for action in NYC’s groundbreaking mental health plan, ThriveNYC, led by the First Lady. A few of the coalition’s major achievements include working to help pass federal comprehensive mental health reform legislation, additional federal funding to combat the opioid crisis, and defense of the Affordable Care Act. Over the course of two days (Monday, December 4 - Tuesday, December 5) the First Lady and Mayor will be joined by agency leaders, elected officials, public health advocates and mental health professionals from across the country to share best practices for driving local change, and encourage a national dialogue that strengthens the public health approach to mental health and substance misuse." The event willl take place at New York Law School.

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “progress in closing Rikers Island.” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will participate.
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

At 9:30 a.m. Monday, JustLeadershipUSA and #CLOSErikers will hold a rally outside the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall subway stop, preceding the City Council oversight hearing on the closure of Rikers Island jails.

Comptroller Scott Stringer has two public events Monday: at 9 a.m. he'll deliver remarks at the UFT rally for Puerto Rico,
outside the Alexander Hamilton Custom House. At 6 p.m., Stringer will deliver remarks at the Blackboard Awards for Schools, at the NYIT auditorium.

At 10 a.m. Monday, the Assembly Standing Committees on Environmental Conservation and Health, and the Subcommittee on Oversight of the Department of Environmental Conservation, will hold a joint public hearing at 250 Broadway in Manhattan to “examine water quality issues and to review implementation of the $2.5 billion in water infrastructure funding contained in the 2017-18 State Budget.”

At 11 a.m. Monday, "Minister Kirsten John Foy, Northeast Regional Director of NAN; along with NAN leadership, clergy, community stakeholders and activists" will "protest the FDNY hiring of racist son of former commissioner." The protest rally will occur outside of 9 Metrotech Center, Flatbush Ave.

At 11 a.m. Monday at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, an #EndWageTheft event: City and state prosecutors and partners will "announce joint effort to combat wage theft in the construction industry. Prosecutors to announce criminal charges in multiple cases involving stolen wages, provide tips on spotting wage theft and reporting it to authorities." The event will include: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office; New York State Attorney General’s Office; Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office; Bronx District Attorney’s Office; Nassau District Attorney’s Office; Queens District Attorney’s Office; Staten Island District Attorney’s Office; Westchester District Attorney’s Office; New York State Department of Labor; New York City Department of Investigation; and the New York City Comptroller’s Office.

At 12:30 p.m. Monday, Civic Hall will host “How Can Kids Become Engaged Citizens In This Age Of Turmoil?,” discussing how education can “help develop kids to become lifelong citizens.” Participants include DeNora Getachew of Generation Citizen, Jacqueline Simmons of Teachers College, Elizabeth Waters of Inquiring Minds, and Joe Rogers of the Center for Education Equity.

At 1 p.m. Monday at his New York City office, "Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel will discuss fake comments that have corrupted the FCC’s public comment process on net neutrality, and call on the Commission to cooperate with Attorney General Schneiderman’s investigation."

At 2 p.m. Monday, Governor Cuomo will be in Albany, from where he will join California Governor Jerry Brown and New Jersey Governor-Elect Phil Murphy to hold "a conference call on the GOP Tax plan."

On Tuesday during the Cities Thrive conference, Mayor de Blasio will give remarks in the 11:20 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. window, sandwiched between remarks by Andy Slavitt, Senior Advisor of the Bipartisan Policy Center, and First Lady McCray.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will be in the Bronx to visit the P.S. 30 food pantry. At noon at City Hall, Mark-Vivierito will hold an ethnic and community media roundtable. And in the evening, Mark-Viverito and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen will appear on NY1's Inside City Hall to discuss the East Harlem rezoning.

On Tuesday at 1:30 p.m., "Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, together with Federal, State and City partners, to announce conclusion of major long-term investigation."

On Tuesday at 2 p.m. at P.S. 315 in Brooklyn, "Deputy Mayor Buery, City officials, and Warby Parker co-founders and co-CEOs visit vision screenings at Brooklyn elementary school to highlight the Community Schools vision screening program and make an announcement about the expansion of the partnership with Warby Parker to provide free eyeglasses to all 227 Community Schools."

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Public Housing will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “DOI investigation into lead-based paint conditions at NYCHA apartments.” Public Advocate Letitia James will participate in the hearing.
--The Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to “cleaning park playground equipment after the spraying of pesticides” and “reporting on park capital expenditures.”

At the State Legislature on Tuesday:
--The Assembly Standing Committees on Governmental Operations, Labor, and Small Business, and the Assembly Subcommittee on Oversight of MWBEs, will meet jointly at 11 a.m. in Albany to “examine the MWBE program, the 2016 MWBE Disparity Study, including its Workforce Study and the potential implementation of recommendations, through the input of program participants.”
--The Assembly Standing Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts, and Sports Development will hold a public hearing at 11 a.m. in Albany to “review the impact and effectiveness of the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) grants awarded throughout the State.”
--The Assembly Standing Committee on Education will meet at noon in Albany for a public hearing regarding “the education of students at private schools in New York State.”
--The Senate Standing Committee on Energy and Telecommunications will hold a public hearing at 10 a.m. at 250 Broadway in Manhattan to “gain insight on the logistics of the NY Prize Program, including timeframes, cost, and efficacy of the program.”

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the District Attorneys for each borough except for Queens will convene at the Town and Village Synagogue in the East Village to discuss how they are attempting to divert mentally ill people and substance abusers away from the criminal justice system. The discussion is sponsored by the Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice, Metro IAF, and the New York Daily News. Alyssa Katz of the Daily News editorial board and Greenburger Center Executive Director Cheryl Roberts will co-moderate.

Public Advocate Letitia James will be among those who attend The Nation Institute's Gala on Tuesday evening.

Comptroller Scott Stringer will host his annual Jewish Heritage Celebration on Tuesday night.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio will hold a town hall meeting at the Belle Harbor School in Belle Harbor, Queens, with City Council Member Eric Ulrich, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, U.S. Rep Gregory Meeks, and Assemblymember Stacey Pheffer Amato.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss the nominations of Anne Holford-Smith to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and Alameda Sky Chapman to the Youth Board.
--The Committee on Technology will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “MODA’s data and verification plan.”
--The Committee on Juvenile Justice will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “DYFJ’s efforts in the implementation of raising the age of criminal responsibility.”

The New York Housing Conference and the National Housing Conference will host its 44th Annual Awards program at the Sheraton Times Square on Wednesday. Prior to the awards ceremony, there will be several panel discussions on the state of housing in New York. At 9 a.m., there will be a discussion on the potential impacts of HUD policy shifts, with NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye, HPD Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer, HUD Region II Administrator Lynne Patton, and NYS Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnaukas. Other panels will gather leaders in government, business, and advocacy to discuss issues such as updates to the city & state housing plan, the homelessness crisis, federal tax reform, and disaster recovery.

At 11 a.m. Wednesday in Albany, the Assembly Standing Committee on Aging will meet for a public hearing to “explore the ways in which community-based non-medical services and programs provide cost-effective supports to seniors living in their homes and neighborhoods and look at new approaches to delivering these services.”

Also at 11 a.m. Wednesday in Albany, the Assembly Standing Committee on Veterans' Affairs will meet on “Budget and programs for veterans related to monies in support of veteran-to-veteran programs.”

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will deliver the keynote address at “The Future of DACA” at Columbia’s SIPA International Affairs Building.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, City Council Member Andy King will deliver the keynote address at the Bronx Neighborhood Housing Services “Winter Wonderland Gala” at Eastwood Manor in Pelham Gardens, Bronx. The keynote will be titled “The Future of Affordable Housing in the Bronx.”

At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Committee on Education will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “diversity in New York City schools.”

At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, City & State will host “Disaster Management,” part of its “Front Page Roundtable Series,” at the 3 West Club in Midtown. The panels, consisting of leaders in business, government, advocacy, and media, will discuss disaster preparedness and management in the wake of recent natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

At 5 p.m. Thursday, protesters will gather outside Verizon stores as part of a nationwide protest against the Trump administration’s plans to end net neutrality.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce will announce its new chair at  its 2017 Annual Open Meeting.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Citizen Action NY will host its 2017 Progressive Leadership Awards at DC 1707 in Midtown. Honorees include Mujahid Farid of the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign, the New York State Nurses Association, Youth Leaders at Make the Road NY, and political strategist and CNN commentator Angela Rye.

At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Mayor de Blasio will hold a town hall meeting at the Julia Richmond Education Complex on the Upper East Side with City Council Member Ben Kallos, U.S. Rep Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Liz Krueger, and Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright.

Friday and the weekend
Mayor de Blasio is expected to make his weekly Friday morning appearance on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show at 10 a.m.

At 11 a.m. Saturday, Easy Elections NY will kick off its 2018 campaign to make it easier to vote in state elections at the First Presbyterian Church of Albany.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

What’s The [Data] Point? $26 billion

whats the data point

What's The Data Point? Episode 21 -- $26 billion, with Martha Stark [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

martha stark ep21 d

The property tax system in New York is complex and controversial. New York City will take in $26 billion in property taxes this year from resident and business property owners -- the largest single source of revenue that funds New York City government. But there are significant inequities in the system and there has been talk of reform for decades, but nothing has been done. While Mayor de Blasio has promised action in his second term, a group has formed to sue the city and state to compel them into changing the system. Martha Stark is a former New York City finance commissioner who is working with the group, Tax Equity Now, and she joined the podcast to discuss the system, its problems, the lawsuit, and possible solutions.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Carol Kellerman of CBC (@cbcny), and guest Martha Stark. Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

After Hacking Revelations, Assembly Examines New York Election Security

Cuomo voting election integrity

Gov. Cuomo votes (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

Is New York ready for an election cyber-attack? Are the state’s voting systems vulnerable to hacking?

The New York State Assembly’s Election Law Committee heard testimony on Tuesday from state and local election board officials and cybersecurity experts on the systems in place to protect the state’s election processes from the types of coordinated cyberattacks that were carried out by Russian actors who sought to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The hearing was prompted by developments in September, when the Department of Homeland Security informed officials from 21 states that their election systems, including their registration databases, were targets of the coordinated Russian hacking effort that also attacked the Democratic National Committee and members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign last year. Although New York was not among them, the news raised concerns among state officials that similar incursions could be levelled against New York election infrastructure.

With the local elections of this year over and a state-level election cycle coming up in 2018, when all of the state Legislature and the four statewide positions will be on the ballot, Assembly members spent four hours Tuesday seeking clarity on how election data is managed, results are counted and recounted, and how the state works with federal and local authorities to detect and prevent cyber attacks like the ones seen last year.

“These attacks were not aberrations, they were not isolated incidents and only the most naive and or the most corrupt would believe that they will not continue into the future,” said Assembly Member Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Nassau County and chair of the committee, in his opening remarks.

Officials from the New York State Board of Elections seemed to put fears at rest almost immediately, even as they acknowledged that certain changes are required and that existing regulations need to be implemented more stringently.

“New York actually has one of the most secure systems in the country,” said Douglas Kellner, co-chair of the state BOE. He noted that the Help America Vote Act passed by the United States Congress in 2002, which enacted reforms to voting systems and provided federal funds for new voting equipment, did not first establish standards for that equipment. New York was one of the last states to comply, but in doing so years later implemented it correctly, he said, “in a manner that provides voters with secure and verifiable elections.”

The state has strict laws requiring certification and testing of both election software and hardware, Kellner said, as well as independent outside reviews of software. Wireless connections and networking capabilities are prohibited in voting equipment and even the computers used to program ballot scanners must be standalone devices without internet connectivity. “That isolation of the system used to set up the voting machines is something relatively unique to New York and it substantially reduces the possibility for the introduction of malware into our voting machines,” Kellner said.

The state also prohibits county boards of elections from contracting with outside vendors to program voting machines, which Kellner did concede could be cumbersome for smaller county boards with limited staff.

Finally, the state requires an audit of three percent of the voting machines used in each county after every election. The audit requirements were a particular focus of the hearing, with good government advocates and cybersecurity experts advocating for a new, more efficient method, called risk-limiting audits, developed in recent years.

Risk-limiting audits randomly choose which ballots to audit for comparison with the paper record, and determine the statistical level at which one can be confident that election results are correct. It results in a changing standard for the number of ballots that have to be audited, depending on the closeness of election results. The closer the race, the more ballots would be examined, for instance. Kellner generally endorsed the idea and recommended that the committee explore legislation to enact the improved system.

Kellner did have his own points to make during his testimony, noting that the law dealing with extremely close contests is “flawed” since escalating from a three percent audit to a full audit requires consensus from election commissioners representing opposing political parties, which is not easy to come by.

As an aside, Kellner, a Democrat, noted that New York would not be able to implement online voting any time soon since “the best technical minds around the world have not solved the problem of maintaining the secret ballot while at the same time ensuring that the ballot is cast and counted in the manner intended by the voter.”

Robert Brehm, co-executive director of the state BOE, said though the board is unaware if New York was directly targeted during the 2016 election, hackers consistently attempt intrusions into their systems and none have significantly affected election administration. The BOE takes a three-pronged approach to cyber-preparedness, he said, which involves developing a comprehensive risk assessment strategy, a strategy for county cyber-readiness, and bolstering plans to respond to individual incidents of cyber-intrusion.

Brehm said state officials cooperate with a slew of federal authorities and are striving to ensure that the information shared between them is also given to county election boards, which lack a strong cybersecurity apparatus and are more vulnerable.

The Assembly members present for the hearing at 250 Broadway in Manhattan, seven Democrats and two Republicans, had a broad range of inquiries. They asked about the board’s experiences with cyber attacks in the past, conclusions on trusted vendors who can work with county boards, and the mechanisms for keeping the legislative and executive branches of government in the loop. They asked about recommendations on electronic poll books (BOE’s Kellner said they had yet to thoroughly examine the proposal, though legislation to implement e-poll books has appeared close to passage in the Legislature), plans to update equipment, and cyber-readiness training for county BOE staff.

At the county level, Brehm conceded, “there’s much more work that’s needed to be done....The voting machines are isolated and very much the voter registration systems are not. They’re part of county infrastructure.” The BOE has full authority, he said, “to promulgate regulations that we are considering with regards to improving our security posture and requirements at the county level, but implementing them is going to be very difficult.”

Assembly Member Robert Carroll of Brooklyn raised the prospect of hackers attempting to purge voters from the rolls, asking the BOE officials how they monitor county BOE rolls. Brehm insisted the board conducts real-time monitoring of voter rolls and is working on updating its system. Carroll also mentioned the infamous purge of nearly 120,000 voters in Brooklyn ahead of the 2016 presidential primary, which Brehm said was due to a procedure being inaccurately followed rather than a failure in the system. He later emphasized the need for greater resources for county boards, and said the BOE would make a more substantial funding request in the upcoming state budget session.

Michael Ryan, executive director of the New York City BOE, also insisted during his testimony that “money is always a critical thing,” although he did praise the cooperative attitude of the state BOE and federal officials.

Ryan said there were initial missteps in communication with federal authorities following the 2016 election cyberattack but the city was prepared for the eventuality. “The good thing is it was the type of circumstances that were built into the protections that were already in place,” he said. He insisted that the board had administered the 2016 and 2017 elections “without an issue of consequence,” but would need to be more vigilant for next year, when there will be congressional, state legislative, and statewide elections in New York. “We’re in pretty good shape...but we’re only in good shape until October of 2018,” he said. “So we really need to take a look at that critically and say, ‘how are we going to plan this out?’”

There were numerous recommendations made to the Assembly committee, some of which involved administrative solutions while yet others require legislative fixes.

Dustin Czarny, commissioner from the Onondaga County BOE said the current voting and election system leaves little time to identify and remedy issues with ballots. He encouraged the Assembly members to pursue electoral reforms such as early voting and no-excuse absentee voting. The two are among a slate of election reforms that have stalled in the Republican-controlled state Senate, with minimal objection from Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo or the Democratic-led Assembly.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a good government group, and Susan Greenhalgh, vice president of programs at Verified Voting, a nonprofit focused on voting system technology, both argued for risk-limiting audits of voting machines.

Lerner pointed out that the current election auditing method looks at the process rather than results -- by testing vote totals from machines instead of directly examining ballots. She insisted that the state must constantly inspect paper ballots for accuracy, must never allow online voting, and must do away with the current system of election audits. “A flat three percent audit really, we feel, doesn’t hit the mark,” she said, agreeing to help legislators and election administrators in crafting legislation on risk-limiting audits.

“We have to look at ways to protect [the election system] as a national security asset,” Greenhalgh said, “and this is something that’s being run at county levels by people who are not in the federal national security space typically.”

Greenhalgh said the focus in computer security was increasingly on “resilience,” allowing a system to function even after it has been hacked. “If we’re looking at resilience in election systems, we want a system that would ensure that voters can vote,” she said, “that their votes get counted correctly...and that the proper outcome is realized.” She also supported the continued use of paper ballots as the simplest means of maintaining physical records, and reiterated the need for risk-limited audits.

“There is a limit to what our security practices, as good as they are in New York, can do,” she said.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Cuomo Urged to Sign Bill Strengthening Freedom of Information Law

Cuomo announcement open for business

Governor Cuomo (via the Governor's Office)

With just a few weeks before the 2018 legislative session, Governor Andrew Cuomo must soon sign or veto the outstanding legislation that passed both houses earlier this year.

Among over 100 pieces of legislation headed for the governor’s desk over the next month is a bill that aims to strengthen the Freedom of Information Law, drafted with the input of many good government and media interests, with changes from a previous version vetoed by Cuomo to address his concerns.

A growing coalition of these groups, which wield national, state and local influence, is keeping the issue in the public eye by calling on Cuomo to sign the bill, which is aimed at improving government responsiveness to information requests by non-governmental entities. The bill would make it easier for members of the public and organizations to win attorneys’ fees when they have won a court order instructing agencies to release public records, which can happen after a government entity refuses to honor an information request and an appeal is filed.

The legislation, introduced by Assemblymember Amy Paulin and Senator Patrick Gallivan, overwhelmingly passed both houses of the Legislature earlier this year, but has not yet been delivered to the governor’s desk for consideration.

While a similar attorneys’ fees bill was vetoed by Cuomo in 2015, the current legislation addresses Cuomo’s concerns by creating a two-tier system for potential financial penalties. Cuomo, a second-term Democrat who says he is running for reelection in 2018, will have 10 days to sign the bill into law once he receives it.

On the heels of a series of newspaper editorials backing the bill’s passage, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a coalition of 33 state media organizations from across the nation, wrote a letter to the governor Monday urging him to sign the legislation into law.

“Public information belongs to the public, and it shouldn’t cost thousands of dollars in legal fees to access it,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, in a statement. “If the government is required to pay the legal costs when a court finds they had no reasonable basis to deny a public information request, it provides an incentive for them to comply with legitimate requests in the first place. More information in the hands of the public only strengthens government transparency and accountability.”

At the same time, a group of transparency and media groups, including national organizations like Sunlight Foundation and National Freedom of Information Coalition, echoed that sentiment in a statement of support this week calling New York’s Freedom of Information Law “the single most important transparency tool the public has.”

The bill amends the state law, often referred to as FOIL, to require the mandatory awarding of attorneys' fees to plaintiffs when the plaintiff substantially prevails on the record request and a court finds that an agency had no reasonable basis for denying access to public records. Under current law, plaintiffs who pursue records in court can seek attorneys’ fees, but the reimbursements are awarded at the judge’s discretion after a plaintiff prevails substantially and proves the government had no reasonable basis for denying access.

Based on feedback from Cuomo’s office and recommendations from the Committee on Open Government, the 2017 bill creates a two-tier system, still allowing judges to use their discretion in awarding attorneys’ fees in cases where agencies failed to meet deadlines for complying with FOIL.

“We think [the two-tier system] addresses the veto messages that we had prior and conversations we’ve had with the governor’s office,” said Assembly Member Paulin, a Democrat from Scarsdale.

Action on the bill will be part of what is expected to be the usual end-of-year flurry of activity by the governor, dealing with legislation before another budget season begins in Albany. A spokesperson for Cuomo said the FOIL bill is under review.

Among those calling for Cuomo to sign the bill into law are open government organizations like BetaNYC and Civic Hall, as well as typical state government watchdog groups like the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, and League of Women Voters, which say they are encouraged by the newfound national attention and support that the bill has drawn.

John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, which helped design the current version of the bill, said he believes that the legislation is a “compromise” that is “designed to pass.”

“The hope is to ensure that the governor sees the full range of support for the bill,” said Kaehny. “One of the reasons this bill has drawn national attention is because New York’s a big state, but also because freedom of information law and transparency have been under attack for the last year or so.”

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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What's the State Role in NYCHA Oversight?

torres nycha monitor idc presser

CM Torres and the call for a state NYCHA monitor (photo: @RitchieTorres)

As Mayor Bill de Blasio and leaders of the embattled New York City Housing Authority continue to respond to fallout from revelations that NYCHA had failed for years to comply with federal and local laws around lead paint inspections, some elected officials are renewing calls for the state take a more active role in the city’s massive public housing system.

NYCHA, which has for decades has been plagued by lapses in safety protocols, sometimes with tragic results, includes 175,000 housing units home to well over the official tally of 400,000 New Yorkers. A report by the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI), released earlier this month, indicates that NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye knew of deficiencies in lead inspections in early 2016 but signed off on paperwork submitted to the federal government certifying that all the regulations had been met. Olatoye explained that soon after she had become aware of the gap, which began under the prior administration, she alerted NYCHA’s federal regulators and jumpstarted the lead inspections.

DOI called for the appointment of a “third-party monitor” to ensure compliance with lead and safety rules as well as to perform regular safety checks on NYCHA units.

De Blasio and Olatoye have resisted both the calls for more state oversight and the recommendation for the outside monitor, instead implementing their own set of reforms, including new protocols and a new internal compliance unit, while multiple top NYCHA officials were either forced out or demoted. Though he also sat on the revelations for over a year, de Blasio argued that NYCHA was already addressing the lead inspection shortfalls and admitted that he should have made the issue public sooner. He has strongly pushed back against calls for Olatoye’s removal.

As a public authority, the 84-year-old agency -- the oldest and largest such low- and middle-income housing provider in the country -- is technically under the purview of the state, though state law grants the mayor control over appointment of board members and leadership.

But in the wake of the lead-inspection revelations, several lawmakers want an increased state role in NYCHA oversight. Members of the state Senate Independent Democratic Conference, led by Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx, held a November 20 press conference to push for a state monitor, as outlined in legislation introduced by Klein earlier this year, which would create an Office of the Independent Monitor within the Department of Homes and Community Renewal, to be appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. Klein and other members of the IDC were also joined by City Council Member Ritchie Torres, chair of the Council’s public housing committee, and other elected officials.

The state played a larger role in financing and governing the agency in the years immediately after World War II, when there was a large state-wide public housing program, but that contribution shrunk over time to near non-existence, and NYCHA relies almost entirely on the federal housing agency, HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), for subsidizing its operating and capital needs.

While NYCHA has accumulated the $17 billion in capital needs to get into a state of good repair, the authority has also struggled to remain in the black in its yearly operating budget, which has actually been stabilized under de Blasio and Olatoye, even without state money.

State-provided operating subsidies to NYCHA were ended by Governor George Pataki in 1998, leaving the housing agency with a $60 million annual operating shortfall, according to NYCHA records. To address its growing annual operating deficit, which was as high as $235 million in 2006, NYCHA transferred many federal subsidies meant for capital improvements into operations, which ensured the system would fall into further disrepair. Since 2006, NYCHA’s personnel has been reduced from 15,000 to 11,000, with many of the jobs lost white collar positions that played a role in compliance. New York City followed the State’s example and by 2004 it had essentially stopped subsidizing NYCHA operations, further crippling the agency, according to according to urban historian and professor Dr. Nicholas Dagen Bloom, co-editor of the anthology Affordable Housing in New York.

“In the past 20 years, there’s a been a federal reduction, but compared to the state and city, HUD is really the only game in town,” said Bloom. “The city and state are almost entirely dependent on HUD for the real or long term oversight. So, there’s kind of a bureaucratic insanity where there is less money, but [NYCHA] is supposed to maintain the same standards.”

NYCHA has been stabilized somewhat under de Blasio, with the 2015 release of NextGeneration NYCHA, an ambitious, 10-year strategic plan to get the authority back on track. Thanks to an increase in city investment, the operating budget is no longer running a deficit and plans are moving ahead to bring in more revenue, but NYCHA has not made much headway in addressing the billions of dollars worth of unmet capital needs. As part of the plan, the de Blasio administration relieved NYCHA of more than $100 million in annual bills toward police services and property taxes. In 2015 and 2016, for the first time in years, the authority achieved an operating surplus, one just under HUD’s recommended three-month cushion. However, the most recent $35 million federal cut, announced in March, is expected to plummet NYCHA’s operating budget back into the red.

Over the past few years, NYCHA has benefited from some capital investment from the city address some infrastructural deficiencies. Since 2015 the city has infused the authority with $1.3 billion to fix 952 roofs, benefiting 175,478 NYCHA residents, as well as $555 million to repair 409 facades, according to a spokesperson for the de Blasio administration. Although the State has historically provided capital funds for NYCHA developments, in 2001, state contributions were reduced from $15 million to $6.4 million a year and dwindled completely by 2007, with the exception of a few one-time investments like $100 million for NYCHA (managed by Dorm Authority for the State of New York) for playgrounds and security cameras in 2015, and $200 million for boilers and elevators in 2017, according to city records.

However, infrastructure problems and public health crises persist throughout NYCHA, and since 2015, the IDC and Council Member Torres have been calling for the state to take more fiscal and regulatory responsibility for the city’s public housing system, a recommendation Governor Andrew Cuomo has in the past shrugged off, incorrectly characterizing the housing authority a “federal agency” and wrongly declaring state contributions as “unprecedented.”

Senator Klein’s state monitor bill unanimously passed the Senate on the final day of the 2017 legislative session, but has not been considered by the Assembly. Spokespersons for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and the Assembly’s housing committee chair, Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz, did not respond to requests for comment on the bill.

Joining the calls for a state monitor amid the lead inspection fallout is not only Torres, but also Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who in a letter to Governor Cuomo, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the federal government has demonstrated itself to be an unreliable partner to the city.

“Only the state has the ability to appoint a credible monitor to examine NYCHA at this time,” Diaz Jr. said in a statement. “More than 400,000 New Yorkers call our city’s public housing developments their home. The families who call our city’s public housing developments home deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. It is now plainly clear that a state-appointed monitor is the only way to make that happen.”

In response to the latest calls for significantly more state involvement in NYCHA, Cuomo spokesperson Abbey Fashouer said in a statement, “We have continuously expressed concerns with NYCHA’s operational failures and these latest allegations -- and potential legal violations -- that the agency knowingly committed by exposing New Yorkers to lead paint are particularly disturbing. We have received the letter, and we are reviewing it with our fellow state partners, the Attorney General and the State Comptroller.”

De Blasio, at a press conference last week, appeared resistant to the idea of increased state involvement, emphasizing that the pertinent authority over the city’s public housing system is HUD and stressing that a federal investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York already identified NYCHA’s lead screening lapses in 2016 and that the city was taking steps to remedy it.

“The pertinent authority here is the federal government,” said de Blasio at a press conference on November 20. “I think it’s important that agencies respect their fellow agencies. So, this is the top level of government that is the funder of a lot of NYCHA’s operations and has legal oversight responsibility. And for two years, they’ve been involved in this issue. I think that should be respected.”

While de Blasio acknowledged that the federal investigation into NYCHA is ongoing and that the city is continuing to cooperate, he said it could lead to a federal monitor of the housing authority, similar to those in place at the NYPD and Department of Correction. Instead of a state or independent monitor at this time, NYCHA is creating an Executive Compliance Department, with Chief Compliance Officer Edna Wells Handy at its head. Handy has been counsel to the NYPD commissioner. The mayor has also rebuffed calls from Public Advocate Tish James to fire Olatoye, defending his public housing chief, saying that she has been instrumental in turning the authority around.

“I’m convinced that the leadership we have now is part of the solution to the problems that plague NYCHA,” de Blasio said at the November 20 press conference. De Blasio also referenced the personnel changes beneath Olatoye, though those were only made once the lead inspection scandal had become public through the Department of Investigation, not soon after Olatoye and de Blasio first learned of the inspection lapses.

Critics say steps taken by the de Blasio administration are insufficient. "Calling these changes ‘sweeping’ hardly makes them so. ‎An internal compliance department is no substitute for an independent monitor. NYCHA's failure to recognize the need for third-party accountability will only deepen the damage to its credibility," said Council Member Torres.

A spokesperson for the DOI, reiterated its call for the external NYCHA monitor to be housed at the independent city agency, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. The spokesperson noted that DOI already has a “robust integrity monitor program” with 18 active monitorships “overseeing an array of integrity issues that include construction, city-funded not for profits, and information technology.”

Professor Bloom said he is not surprised there is little enthusiasm from Cuomo’s office for the state to get involved.

“The underlying problem is NYCHA residents don’t vote at very high levels -- New York City residents don’t vote -- and upstate, public housing is not a priority. It’s a very small program upstate. [It’s a question of whether] there is the political will,” said Bloom.

According to Bloom, the calls for external monitors may be beside the point. While the creation of additional compliance entities may produce more reports (and bureaucracy), without a significant investment of funds to address the lead problem at its root cause, these steps are unlikely to improve quality of life for NYCHA residents. Currently federal regulations require that NYCHA inspect all 55,000 apartments with presumed lead paint, and NYCHA must prioritize apartments with children under six-years-old listed as residents. The city insists that the number of affected apartments is low; that between 2010 and 2016 there were only 17 documented cases requiring lead abatement at 18 NYCHA apartments where children with elevated blood lead levels live. Four of these cases occurring after 2014, according to de Blasio’s office, but a WNYC report suggests that these numbers may be skewed, since the city defines "elevated lead levels" at 10 micrograms per deciliter -- double the U.S Center for Disease Control standard since 2012.

“If you really want to make NYCHA lead-free -- and the case could be made that there should be no lead in any of these apartments -- well, that will require a much more extensive cleaning that will cost a lot of money,” Bloom said. A state-run and financed “lead abatement program” for NYCHA, for example, would likely be welcomed by the housing authority, Bloom added.

Meanwhile, Mayor de Blasio said that two rounds of inspections and amelioration were already underway has vowed that NYCHA would soon been in compliance. On Monday, The Daily News reported that NYCHA residents had been notified that inspectors would force entry into units, removing and replacing door locks if tenants were not home during a designated time window.

“We will be in compliance with Local Law One next month and then we intend to stay in compliance with Local Law One every year thereafter,” de Blasio said at the November 20 press conference. “And that is important because what that means essentially is as soon as inspections and amelioration ends for one year, you start essentially immediately thereafter for the next year. So there will be a continuous inspection cycle from this point on. Any resources that NYCHA needs for that effort will be provided.”

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 27

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This post-Thanksgiving week promises to be a busy one. Mayor de Blasio will likely be active after two weeks of limited public appearances (he was away on a family vacation in Connecticut, then it was Thanksgiving week). The City Council has another busy week with a variety of hearings and a full Council Stated meeting on Thursday, at which the Council passes bills that have moved through committee and sees the introduction of new bills (since we're in the final weeks of the four-year session, there are more bills being passed than introduced at this point). Two pieces of legislations especially worth watching: the police reform Right to Know Act and changes to the commercial rent tax, which affects businesses south of 96th Street in Manhattan. The Council's end-of-term flurry of oversight hearings continues this week.

Also continuing this week is the race to become the next Speaker of the City Council. The eight men running for the position, which will be officially voted on during the first Stated meeting of January's new Council class, have been engaging in behind-the-scenes politicking and more public arguments for their candidacies. The candidates continue to participate in forums, which are largely their opportunities to influence influencers like advocacy groups and the media narrative of the race. Overall, though, the many public forums the candidates have been and continue participating in will have little impact on who wins this race, which is decided by Council members, party bosses, labor unions, and other influential figures, like members of Congress and Mayor de Blasio, who will reportedly continue to meet with the speaker candidates this week.

De Blasio is holding a town hall in Queens on Thursday night. The mayor has four public events Monday -- see details below.

As we hit December on Friday, we're just over a month from when Governor Cuomo will begin to outline his 2018 agenda. In January, the governor, who says he will pursue a third term through next year's election, will give his State of the State policy agenda and also lay out his executive budget. Cuomo has already indicated that a congestion pricing plan will be part of the picture, but little else is known. As December and January approach, watch for new information about Cuomo's 2018. This week, we know that Cuomo is organizing and headlining a Saturday rally to protest President Trump's agenda set for New York City on Saturday, when Trump is due in the city for some fundraising. Cuomo is appearing more and more to be testing the waters for a potential presidential run. While the next presidential election is in 2020, candidates will really start running well before. Cuomo may prioritize his reelection bid first, then kick his presidential exploration into full gear in early 2019.

As always, there's a great deal happening this week - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

On Monday, Mayor de Blasio has several public events: at noon at City Hall, de Blasio "will hold a public hearing on 16 pieces of legislation" that will be signed into law at a later date. At 4:30 p.m., "the Mayor will attend the grand opening ceremony for Gino Sorbillo’s Pizzeria." At 6 p.m. at City Hall, "the Mayor, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and members of the City Council will host a Puerto Rican Heritage celebration." And at 7:30 p.m. at Elsewhere in Brooklyn, "the Mayor will sign legislation to repeal the Cabaret Law."

At 11 a.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer is holding a press conference at Worth Square in Manhattan.

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committees on Transportation and Sanitation & Solid Waste Management will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “private sanitation fleet safety.”
--The Committees on Civil Service & Labor and Small Business will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding an “update on career pathways/workforce development systems.”
--The Committee on Recovery and Resiliency will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding an “update on assisting vulnerable populations in emergency evacuations.”

On Monday evening at 6:30 p.m., "AARP New York, NBC 4 New York, Telemundo47 and NBC Latino will host a debate for candidates in the running for New York City Council Speaker. Candidates will debate their priorities for the Council, including issues important to New Yorkers 50-plus such as affordable housing, transportation, support for caregivers, and livability. Local AARP members will be available for comments on the debate." The event will take place at the 92nd Street Y and will be livestreamed by TelemundoTelemundo and by NBC New York.

On Monday "at 6:30 PM, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams will lead a community vigil in memory of 14-year-old Edwin Ajacalon, a Guatemalan immigrant who worked as a deliveryman for a local restaurant; he was killed Saturday afternoon in Sunset Park when a speeding car slammed into his bicycle and dragged him a half a block. At the site of the crash, Borough President Adams will join Ajacolon's uncle, fellow New Yorkers who have lost loved ones to traffic violence, and neighborhood advocates, including Council Member Carlos Menchaca and Transportation Alternatives, in mourning his loss and demanding action for safer streets, including long-demanded speed cameras."

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Economic Development will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “NYC’s sagging air cargo industry.”
--The Committees on Higher Education and Technology will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “CUNY tech incubators.”
--The Committees on Health and Immigration will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “immigrant access to healthcare.”
--The Committee on Governmental Operations will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “DCAS’s energy management and energy efficiency initiatives.”
--The Committee on Juvenile Justice will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “trauma-informed services in the juvenile justice system.”

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics will meet on Tuesday in Albany.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Election Law and the Subcommittee on Election Day Operations and Voter Disenfranchisement will hold a public hearing at 250 Broadway in Manhattan to “examine the condition of the State’s election infrastructure and take testimony with regard to protecting the integrity of election systems against cyber-infiltration or attack.”

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, Still We Rise NYC will host “Healing Of Our City: A Faith & Community Conversation with NYPD” at the New Jerusalem Worship Center in Jamaica, Queens. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker will be joined by fellow officers and faith leaders to discuss several hot button issues related to policing in New York City.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Agriculture will hold an oversight hearing in Albany regarding “the SFY 2017-2018 State Budget for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.”

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Elections will hold a commissioners meeting.

At 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, Public Advocate Letitia James will visit the Queens Adult Learning Center.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Panel for Educational Policy will hold a public meeting at Long Island City High School in Queens.

At 6 pm. Tuesday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will speak at Nicholasa Mohr exhibition opening at Aguilar Library.

There is a City Council Speaker candidate forum on Tuesday night focused on arts and culture, moderated by Juan Manuel Benitez of NY1 Noticias, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at SVA Theatre. The forum is hosted by New Yorkers for Culture and Arts in partnership with "112 community engagement partners."

Mayor de Blasio will attend two closed press events on Tuesday evening: "the NYC League of Conservation Voters Fall Event and "Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins P.C Mill Brook Realty Group LLC’s Holiday Party."

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Aging will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “supporting unpaid caregivers.”
--The Committee on Contracts will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “examining existing supports and needs of underrepresented business owners in city procurement.”

On Wednesday morning, Center for an Urban Future will host "a high-level symposium...The Role of the Tech Sector in Sparking Middle Class Job Creation in New York City. The forum, to be held at Grand Central Tech, will host a distinguished panel of experts that will discuss the increasingly important role of the tech sector in stimulating middle class jobs in New York City." Panelists will include James Patchett, President & CEO, NYC Economic Development Corporation; Julie Samuels, Executive Director, Tech:NYC; Patrick Deem, Co-Founder & CFO, Voodoo Manufacturing; Rashid Ferrod Davis, Founding Principal, Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH); Alex Lirtsman, Co-Founder, Ready Set Rocket; and moderator Jonathan Bowles, Executive Director, Center for an Urban Future.

At 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Public Advocate Letitia James will hold a public hearing “focused on climate change, its potential impacts, and strategies and solutions for New York City.” The hearing will take place at Borough of Manhattan Community College in Tribeca.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting at Spector Hall.

On Wednesday at 7 p.m., City Council Speaker candidates will participate in a forum hosted by Make the Road New York, El Diario, and Univision. The forum will be in Spanish, with English translation, and will take place at Make the Road in Jackson Heights, Queens.

The full City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, prefaced by a press conference led by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Also at the City Council on Thursday: the Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to “requiring the department of finance to provide new homeowners with information about real property taxes and exemptions,” as well as a resolution “approving the new designation and changes in the designation of certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget.”

At 3 p.m. Thursday, advocates will rally at Hunter College to demand free tuition at CUNY and a minimum salary per course of $7,000 for adjunct professors. The rally will take place on the day that PSC-CUNY’s contract expires.

At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Civic Hall and LMHQ will host the “Women’s Unconference,” discussing “innovations in women’s advocacy and female empowerment.”

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the New York City Bar Association, the Historical Society of the New York Courts, and the New York State Archives will host “Documenting Our Past: Great Documents of New York Legal History,” discussing “early documents of state importance that provide a window into New York State legal foundations.”

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, advocates will rally in Washington Square Park to demand that the (now former) police officers accused of raping a woman in custody face justice.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Mayor de Blasio will hold a town hall meeting at MS 217 in Briarwood, Queens. City Council Member Rory Lancman will host and emcee, and the event will be held in collaboration with Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, State Senator Leroy Comrie, and Assemblymembers Vivian Cook, David Weprin, Nily Rozic, Alicia Hyndman, and Daniel Rosenthal.

At 7 p.m. Thursday there will be a City Council speaker candidate forum in Brooklyn at St. Paul Community Baptist Church, with Rev. David K. Brawley, co-chair of Metro IAF/EBC, as moderator. Public Advocate Letitia James is co-hosting. Council Members Ritchie Torres and Robert Cornegy are confirmed.

Friday and the weekend
At 10 a.m. Friday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Judiciary will hold a public hearing at 250 Broadway in Manhattan regarding “Implementation of the State Budget on the Judiciary.”

On Friday night the City Council Speaker candidates will debate live on NY1 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump will be in New York City on Saturday for a fundraiser. Governor Cuomo will be at the Midtown Hilton at 11 a.m. to host an anti-Trump rally.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

Possible GOP Gubernatorial Candidates Weigh Chances to Unseat Cuomo

gop governor candidates

L-R: Harry Wilson, John DeFrancisco, Marc Molinaro, Brian Kolb

The Republican pool of candidates exploring an attempt to unseat Governor Andrew Cuomo in the 2018 gubernatorial race appears to be shrinking. Now just four Republicans say they are exploring a run -- down from at least seven prior to this past Election Day -- with the potential candidates vowing to announce their decisions by Christmas.

Targeting the well-funded Democratic governor seeking his third term would typically be a bold but calculated bet. On one hand, Cuomo has significant vulnerabilities going into 2018, but the outcome of Election Day 2017, which many are interpreting as a “blue wave” of Democratic wins in reaction to the presidency of Donald Trump, may give some Republicans more pause.

A GOP gubernatorial win in New York, which has not happened since George Pataki won a third term in 2002, would require sizeable success in the New York City suburbs, but after voters handed GOP county executive seats in Westchester and Nassau to Democrats earlier this month, potential 2018 candidates must consider how the anti-Trump sentiment will play out next year.

"What looked to be a very deep pool suddenly got ankle-deep shallow, with the water still going down. That's what a mini-tsunami election will do to anyone rationally thinking of running against a political tide,” said William O’Reilly, a Republican strategist who runs the November Team. That wave seems to have both unseated and knocked from 2018 contention Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, an O’Reilly client who lost to Cuomo in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

Harry Wilson, a hedge fund manager from Westchester, is seen as a clear front-runner to become the GOP nominee next year, as he may be capable of coming closest to Cuomo’s immense fundraising capabilities and he performed well in his 2010 bid for state comptroller. The other three most-discussed potential GOP gubernatorial candidates are all current officeholders -- Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, and state Senator John DeFrancisco -- who would begin a race with a solid local base of support and some name recognition.

“I would hope that Senator DeFrancisco or County Executive Molinaro will make the leap,” said O’Reilly, “but in the end the 2018 Republican candidate for governor may have to come down to a recruitment effort.”

For his part, Cuomo is heading toward his reelection year facing criticism from the right and the left for New York City’s subway crisis. Among other issues, he is also maligned for high property taxes around the state, not to mention corruption trials about to begin involving his economic development initiatives, which involve some of his closest associates. Cuomo is not especially popular outside of New York City, where his favorability remains fairly high, and the second-term Democrat may very well face a tough primary of his own, as he did in 2014, given that many in the left flank of his party see him as too centrist.

The New York State Republican Party has calculated that ideally it should avoid a primary to have a shot at victory -- assuming Cuomo is in the running -- so the four potential candidates are now courting GOP leadership for the nod. All four men say they are on good terms with each other and each is taking his own path to testing the waters. Molinaro and Kolb have discussed running on a ticket together for governor and lieutenant governor, but both say that no such decision has been made (and it is not clear which would run for what).

Publically, the party leadership is shrugging off the losses from Election Day, pointing to other victories like that of Republican Steve McLaughlin, an Assembly member elected county executive of Rensselaer. State Republican Party Chair Ed Cox, on Fred Dicker’s Focus on Albany radio show, chalked up Astorino’s loss to “third term-itis,” the same challenge now facing Cuomo, whereby it is notoriously difficult to win third terms in politics.

Regarding the election of Democrat Laura Curran to the historically-Republican Nassau county executive seat, Cox pointed to a Democratic voter base energized by opposition to the constitutional convention ballot question. Former County Executive Ed Mangano’s indictment last year on federal corruption charges also tainted the Republican Party and turned many independents, who make up a large segment of Nassau’s electorate, against GOP contender Jack Martins, he said.

Wilson, who did well in his 2010 run for state comptroller, losing to Democrat Tom DiNapoli 49.7 percent to 47.2 percent and has had private sector success, may be willing to put in $10 million or more of his own money. Molinaro, Kolb, and DeFrancisco would each be able to kick off fundraising from their local supporters.

With a governor that has $25 million and counting in the bank, and was recently in California courting major donors, Republican candidates might want to get an early start in fundraising, but that would require more commitment to exploring or declaring a run (on the Democratic side, for example, former state Senator Terry Gibson, considering a primary challenge to Cuomo, recently opened a campaign account so he could start raising money).

Prior to his run for comptroller, Wilson flexed his business acumen and negotiating chops when he helped President Barack Obama execute the auto industry bailout early in Obama’s first term. One “prominent Republican county chairman” told The Daily News that “If Harry Wilson says he wants to be the nominee, he’ll be the nominee.” Wilson’s bipartisanship could prove helpful in a general election against Cuomo, as could his New York City-focused criticisms of the governor.

On Dicker’s show, on November 15, Wilson suggested that his current priority is raising his four daughters, two of whom are teenagers, and said he would decide over the holidays whether the timing was right for his family.

“In four years from now two of our girls will be out of the house. In eight years from now, all our girls will be out of the house and I’ll still be a young man,” said Wilson, referring to the possibility of holding off this year and running in the future. “It’s a question of that tradeoff of where I can be most useful, most effective, and balancing my commitment to my family and helping others.”

Meanwhile, Molinaro, a suburban county executive who felt the Nassau and Westchester losses close to home, said in an interview with Gotham Gazette that those outcomes would likely factor into his own decision-making.

“What occurred certainly in the suburbs of New York City in 2017 should weigh on us,” said Molinaro. “I think what happened [on Election Day] is the result of an energized [Democratic] base, which is upset with the national politics -- no question -- and organized opposition to the constitutional convention question; those two things combined, with a few other local variables.”

Molinaro, who has been a vocal critic of Cuomo on social media and elsewhere, is especially critical of the administration’s failure to accompany the state’s property tax cap with adequate mandate relief, the heroin crisis, and failing schools, and has a good reputation as a county manager. Like Wilson, he has emphasized city metro area interests like fixing the subway system. He has also cited his young family, including a 6-month-old son, as one reservation about running.

On the more conservative end of the spectrum are the two upstate legislators, DeFrancisco and Kolb, both of whom have extensive legislative experience and have not been shy about criticizing the governor and his policies.

DeFrancisco, who has been representing the Syracuse area since 1992, says he recognizes Cuomo’s fundraising advantage and name recognition, but also sees many similarities between today and 1994, the year Pataki beat Cuomo’s father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, who was then seeking a third term amid buzz about presidential aspirations, like those that surround Andrew Cuomo now.

“Back then people were leaving the state, exactly like it it is now. There was a deficit back then -- I remember it vividly -- of $5 billion. The Democratic comptroller is estimating that the budget deficit going into January is going to be $4 to $6 billion. Almost an identical situation,” said DeFrancisco. “And there was a feeling out there -- the same thing I’m hearing now -- that it’s ‘anybody but Cuomo.’ An individual by the name of George Pataki that nobody knew, the former mayor of Peekskill, a first-term senator, ends up being the nominee and beats him.”

DeFrancisco regularly attacks Cuomo, and he hasn’t hid his frustration with the fact that much of his legislation, including a bill to restore procurement oversight powers to the state comptroller, has not reached the Senate floor, even as the chamber is controlled by Republicans. “I believe the best way to make change and the fastest way to make substantial change is by having a Republican governor,” he said.

Kolb, as leader of the minority conference in the Assembly, has had the liberty of taking principled stands, such as pushing for significant ethics reform and advocating for a “yes” vote on the constitutional convention. The Republican from Canandaigua has consistently voted against legislation that is controversial in upstate’s more conservative, rural areas, like Cuomo’s signature 2013 gun-control legislation, the SAFE Act.

Kolb, who prior to taking office in 2000 was an entrepreneur and ran two manufacturing companies, Refractron Technologies and North American Filter Corporation, said he believes he has “the best blend of private sector and public sector experience.”

“I’ve created jobs. I know the obstacles and how to fix them. I’m problem solver and I’ve done it in the public sector and the public sector and I’ve also shown I could work across the aisle,” he said.

The Republican contenders all say they would work to capture the disillusionment in Cuomo’s policies felt on both sides of the aisle. In 2014, Cuomo endured a bruising primary amid criticisms from progressives that he empowers the Senate GOP alliance with rouge Democrats, impeding the state from moving in a more progressive direction, a rallying cry that has since picked up steam. Zephyr Teachout, a professor at Fordham’s law school, won a surprising 34 percent of the Democratic vote in that primary after running a truncated campaign that began with no name recognition or money. Another tough primary in 2018, which Cuomo has done some work to avoid by passing more progressive legislation, could hurt the governor in a general election, largely depending on the opponent.

The potential GOP candidates said they plan to hold Cuomo accountable on issues like the subways, upstate’s crumbling infrastructure and outmigration, rising property taxes, his failure to tackle corruption in state government, and what they see as his failing economic development initiatives.

A key initial step for those exploring the race and possibly seeking the GOP nomination is to appeal to Republican county chairs, who make up the party committee and meetings have been taking place, with candidates touring the state. A deal may be cut in advance in order to avoid a primary, but there have been years when the committee votes are split between two or three candidates and an open contest for the GOP nomination is held. Candidates unhappy with or outside the party establishment process can always petition themselves onto the ballot whether an intra-party deal is struck or not.

Some watchers of state politics say that regardless of the GOP nominee, the math just doesn’t work for the Republican Party. “When you break it down arithmetically, they have to crack 35 percent in New York City to have a chance to win, and carry 57 percent of the vote of the Suburban downstate counties -- Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester and Rockland -- and then pass 60 percent upstate,” said Bruce Gyory, a former advisor to three Democratic governors and now a professor at Albany University. “That was the Pataki model for his three terms and particularly his third term, and boy-oh-boy the Republicans are nowhere close to meeting that challenge in any region.”

In 2014, the Republican Party made strides from 2010 with Astorino as their candidate, grabbing 41 percent of the vote compared to Cuomo’s 57 percent. Astorino took 42 of 50 upstate counties, compared to just 13 upstate counties won by 2010 GOP candidate Carl Paladino. In the suburbs, Astorino also gained ground, but ultimately did not crack 50 percent in the crucial Westchester, Nassau, and Rockland counties. He drew approximately 15 percent of the vote in the five boroughs.

Cuomo’s approval rating took a hit earlier this year, apparently due to New York City’s ongoing subway woes, but his popularity has appeared to be on the rebound, with a Quinnipiac University poll from October showing that 70 percent of city voters approved of the Democratic governor, including more than 50 percent of Republicans.

Another threat to party-affiliated GOP candidates may be coming from Paladino, the Buffalo-area businessman and Donald Trump supporter. Paladino was reported to be mulling another run, but went silent after his removal from the Buffalo school board for allegedly leaking confidential information from executive board meetings. He also drew negative attention last year for racist comments sent to a Buffalo publication about former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. A Paladino entrance into the race could drag a prefered Republican establishment candidate to the right or cause other problems for the GOP, including additional focus on Trump or requiring Paladino's opposition to raise and spend significant money to win the primary. Paladino did not return a request for comment about whether he will run.

“I could see him coming to the conclusion that the only way to regain public prestige is to run again for governor and he could complicate the primary field a great deal because he could change the regional balance of power if he continues to have that hold on western New York,” said Gyory. “He's a man who, if you study him, his public person, he has a thin skin and great pride.”

Correction: A previous version of this article mistated the totals for the 2010 New York Comptroller's race.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Assembly Takes Stock of State Economic Development Programs Ahead of Next Negotiations

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Howard Zemsky in Buffalo (via Governor's Office)

Ahead of the 2018 legislative session, the New York State Assembly’s Economic Development Committee held a hearing Monday in Albany to evaluate the progress of the state’s multitude of economic development programs and hear testimony from companies and organizations that have benefited from state grants.

Taking center stage was Howard Zemsky, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s economic development czar as president and CEO of Empire State Development, who defended the state’s jobs programs and was grilled for nearly an hour by members of the committee. Committee members, led by chair Robin Schimminger, a Democrat from Erie County, raised concerns about the effectiveness of Buffalo’s annual 43North competition and Regional Economic Development Council grants; lower-than-expected job production; and increased regulatory burdens on small businesses.

Cuomo has staked much of his legacy and devoted billions of state dollars to revitalizing the upstate economy. The state has infused $8 billion a year into economic projects since he took office in 2011, according to a Gannett Albany review. But as Cuomo’s economic development programs have multiplied each year, the Legislature has failed to pass any meaningful oversight measures to ensure transparency, that beneficiaries are meeting job creation goals, or that grants and incentives are going to well-vetted recipients. While some efforts, such as those aimed at farms and breweries, have been successful, others, like Cuomo’s Start-Up New York program, have fallen short of job creation goals.

At Monday’s hearing, Zemsky noted that upstate cities have seen a boom in tech sector jobs, which on average pay more than non-tech sector jobs, and touted a dramatic increase in venture capital investment throughout the state. The Empire State Development head said that ESD takes a “holistic” approach, pointing to the success of its downtown and waterfront revitalization efforts, which aim to attract a younger, more vibrant talent base, and investing in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

He briefly defended the Regional Economic Development Councils, which have been accused of favoritism and conflicts of interests, and touted Buffalo as a success story -- a city that has been a major focus for Gov. Cuomo and transformed from a financially depressed post-industrial town to a vibrant hub of entrepreneurship.

“A lot of what we have done in Buffalo we have used as a template in many other parts of the state and I’m proud that we took some risks and took some chance,” said Zemsky. “Every year we improve and make adjustments.”

Schimminger cited an article noting that three-quarters of companies that are attracted to Buffalo by the 43North program have since left the city and inquired about whether the residency requirements, currently a year, could be extended.

“We’re only a few years into the program, but after every year the 43North board reassesses and reevaluates what went right, what didn’t go right, just like we do in government. Is it possible that we might change the regulations, that we might change the time frame? That’s under active discussion,” said Zemsky, noting that many companies retain active connections to Buffalo even after they leave.

Zemsky’s presentation rang hollow for at least one committee member, Assemblymember Raymond Walter, a Republican from Amherst, who told Zemsky to provide hard data about the returns delivered by the state’s Buffalo investments rather than “offering platitudes.”

“Our job here is to draw a direct connection between what we are doing with taxpayer dollars to that renaissance and I’m not convinced you can do that,” said Walter. “If we could focus on that, rather than the platitudes, that would be great.”

Zemsky pointed Walter to ESD’s progress report, insisting the number of new firms has grown and jobs have dramatically accelerated in Buffalo, by “almost any metric,” particularly when compared to other struggling cities.

The conversation quickly turned personal, with Zemsky, who is a Buffalo businessman, accusing the Assembly member of opposing the state’s efforts to spur Buffalo’s economy, and demanding, “Do you go to any of the REDC meetings, do you know anything that is actually going on?”

At one point during the heated exchange about interpreting Buffalo’s jobs data, which Walter said mostly highlights low-skill jobs growth, Zemsky snapped, “You don’t know anything about the innovation economy.”

The biggest indicator of Buffalo’s growth, Zemsky pointed to the rise of the area’s millennial population over the last decade. “Turning the corner on that is the most important thing we can do,” he said.

After Zemsky, the Assembly panel was addressed by various industry leaders and experts, who described how programs like the Start-Up New York jobs program and the Southern Tier Startup Alliance (NYSTAR) have created or retained thousands of jobs and spurred both investment and innovation.

A representative of watchdog group ReInvent Albany then presented the positions of good government organizations, calling for the passage of a number of bills introduced in the Legislature last year, which would increase oversight of and transparency in the state’s economic development programs.

Among the legislative fixes proposed by Reinvent Albany and others is the creation of a “database of deals,” which would digitally list every entity receiving funds from the state along with where each dollar is going; a bill to restore the powers of the state Comptroller to review procurement contracts for SUNY, CUNY, and Office of General Services; and campaign finance restrictions to curb the appearance or reality of pay-to-play politics.

At least two bills, including the database of deals and one requiring nonprofit organizations affiliated with government entities to be subject to the freedom of information law and the open meetings law, are sponsored by Schimminger, but did not make it to the Assembly floor. Legislation related to procurement reform appeared to gain steam early this year in light of a major bid-rigging scandal that will see close associates of and donors to Cuomo on trial for corruption in 2018, but nothing was passed as the Legislature acquiesced to the governor’s objections.

“The only thing the Legislature did do is write a check for $1.8 billion in the extender budget passed in April, a blank check granted by the Legislature to Governor Cuomo for economic development projects with no additional oversight,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany.

Schimminger welcomed Camarda’s comments, saying that  good government groups are “preaching to the choir” when they call for increased accountability and oversight.

“Not a single one of those bills that you mentioned have been blocked by the committee, in fact, many of them -- the database of deals, the Start-Up fix -- have come out of the committee but are delayed elsewhere,” said the Assembly member, referring to the fact that the legislation had been held up in other legislative committees.

The wisdom behind Start-Up New York, which creates tax-free zones for new businesses, local development corporations and other economic development programs is the finding that startups create significantly more jobs than companies that have matured 10 to 30 years and drive economic development. But critics say these programs continue to fall short of the job creation goals and many beneficiaries of these state incentives have failed to report on sufficient or any progress made through their grants.

Despite the fact that several members of Cuomo’s circle are set to appear in court next year for their roles in the bid-rigging scandal involving the state’s Buffalo Billion program, a second round of cash investment to the project was approved in this year’s budget, with no new accountability measures.

While Schimminger acknowledged these problems in his opening remarks, the hearing was primarily an information-gathering session, and those outstanding issues will be addressed during the next legislative session, he told Camarda. The governor will unveil his next executive budget in January, leading to months of negotiations and hearings.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Defeated on Con Con, Gerald Benjamin Plots His Next Move

Gerald Benjamin SUNY

Gerald Benjamin

“It was a devastating defeat,” said Gerald Benjamin, wounds still fresh from a blowout he had, in his seventies, worked very hard to avoid. “The size of the defeat upset me more than the fact of the defeat,” he added, referring to the overwhelming vote against holding a New York state constitutional convention.

“I really think that this was a major missed opportunity,” Benjamin said by phone Monday, less than a week after New York voters decided 83 percent to 17 percent not to hold a convention to amend the state’s most powerful governing document. “The nature of the opportunity was misunderstood; the nature of the risk was miscalculated,” said Benjamin, from New Paltz, where he continues his work at the State University of New York, leading the Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives, which was renamed after him in 2015.

The constitutional convention vote result was despite Benjamin’s best efforts, barnstorming the state giving talks and participating in debates, explaining the once-in-a-generation opportunity to truly reform state government. He’s advocated for a constitutional convention for decades, including ahead of the last every-20-years vote, in 1997, which also resulted in no gathering to debate the structures and mandates of state law.

Benjamin believes that the state constitution desperately needs modernization, the court system needs to be redesigned, and a host of changes should be made to how state government functions, including rebalancing of power between the executive and legislative branches, term limits for state legislators, and more, like home rule and campaign finance reforms.

“I did my best. I don’t feel I could’ve done anything more,” Benjamin said. “I was glad I got to vote ‘yes.’ In retrospect I felt disappointed by the margin.”

Asked if he had felt like he was voting for himself on the ballot, Benjamin laughed, and commented that the questioner appeared to be pushing him toward sentimentality. Throughout the campaign leading up to Election Day, Benjamin had regularly said that this would be the last opportunity for a convention “in my lifetime.” He’s now actively plotting his next moves toward reform.

While Benjamin and other scholars and reformers were for calling a convention, in large part to pursue changes that entrenched powers have been unwilling to consider, the opposition to a convention was an immense coalition of labor unions, civil rights and environmental groups, and others, including many on both sides of the political aisle, with a few exceptions. They vastly outspent the “yes” side, using a campaign of fear (that pensions would be stripped or natural preserves unprotected) to drive members and activists to the polls to flip over the ballot and vote “no” on proposition one.

“Those are the right were being rational,” Benjamin said, noting that Republicans are a dwindling minority in New York. “Those on the left, I don’t know.” Benjamin expressed what was a fairly common belief, that labor unions, civil rights groups, environmentalists, and allies of each were being too cynical in their opposition, that they could easily dominate a constitutional convention, which, if approved, would have taken place in 2019, with its proposals likely to be on the November 2020 ballot for voters to approve or vote down.

In 2018, there would have been delegate elections, a process some, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, pointed to as problematic, since there are no rules restricting current officeholders or their associates from running, and no campaign finance rules beyond the porous state-level ones. Cuomo had expressed support for holding a convention in the past, but that had all but vanished by the start of this year.

“I think he made the political calculation and acted in accord with it,” Benjamin said of Cuomo. “It had to do with ambition for himself and ambition for his program. And he’s good at that.I’m not condemnatory of a man making a political judgement...but I’m disappointed, it wasn’t a profile in courage. It’s indicative that the path is so narrow.”

As for the concern from Cuomo and others about the delegate election process, Benjamin said one way to negate that issue in the future is to move legislation well ahead of the next convention vote, due for 2037.

“Conversations have just started to make that happen and make some other things happen constitutionally,” Benjamin said, explaining that he is already facing the reality dealt to him on Election Day. “I’m not sitting here being discouraged,” he said.

Instead, he is talking with others about how to make changes, related to both the convention process and, perhaps more importantly, key aspects of state governance. ”I certainly will help pressure the Legislature,” Benjamin said, noting that he is not optimistic, but that not trying isn’t an option. “You can’t do anything without having a proposal...you have to have a bill, something beyond an idea. We are going to keep the conversation going in some measure.”

Reforms that would have been sought at a convention can be approached piecemeal, whether it is electoral reforms like early voting or a campaign finance system.

As for the 2017 vote that wasn’t, despite the political moment, wherein New Yorkers have little faith in state government after seeing corruption scandal after corruption scandal, Benjamin said “At the end of the day, it was a harder test than I thought it was from a political point of view.” But, he added, while “We were really outgunned, in retrospect that wasn’t really the problem.’

Benjamin cited “one structural and one operational” deficit his side faced. One on hand, he noted that with all the rights and protections that have been added to the constitution over many years, including some at constitutional conventions, ”every increment of positive rights that were added created a constituency to protect that the document wouldn’t be changed...it’s very powerful politically that aggregation of interests in favor of not opening the document.”

Second, he said, “The nature of the question doesn’t tell late-arriving people that they are talking about the state constitution.” The wording of the ballot question, which is mandated by the current constitution, does not indicate whether the convention would deal with the state or federal constitution, and people with little background knowledge may be worried that the much-revered federal constitution could be on the chopping block.

Benjamin cited the organized effort of the opposition, as well as the shifting poll numbers that helped convince many that the proposition would not pass as the vote approached, and what he called a “really problematic” and “poorly argued editorial” by The New York Times editorial board, which advocated voting “no.”

Steadfast that he’s nowhere near done seeking reform and improvement to state government structure and process, Benjamin said it’s hard to see a constitutional convention being approved in the future. “I can’t imagine the conditions that would arise, even the crisis conditions, in that case we’d address the crisis,” he said.

But, he added, “Who knows what opportunities circumstances will present.”

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 13

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week after the election does not look like it will be too quiet, though Mayor Bill de Blasio will be away on a family vacation in Connecticut all week, Monday through Friday. Still, there is a lot going on, including the ongoing attempts to fight a Republican effort to overhaul the federal tax code that has many in New York very concerned; two City Council speaker candidates forums (Monday and Tuesday); and a variety of City Council hearings, as well as a "stated meeting" of the full Council at which bills are passed and new bills introduced. One bill likely to move through committee and the full Council this week would allow online voter registration in New York City.

On Sunday at City Hall, de Blasio, Senators Kirsten Gillebrand and Charles Schumer, and many others rallied against the GOP tax plan, which would drastically reduce corporate taxes as well as federal deductions people can take for their local and state taxes. Since New York is a high-tax state, New Yorkers no longer able to deduct their local and state taxes from their federal taxes would significantly add to New Yorkers' tax bills. Some Republicans, including in New York, are against the plan, and GOP members of Congress who are undecided are being lobbied from both sides.

As always, there are many events to be aware of this week - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is in Germany on Monday and Tuesday for a climate change conference.

Governor Andrew Cuomo leaves New York on Monday for California, where he is set to hold multiple fundraisers.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul has two public events Monday: at 11 a.m. she will deliver remarks at New York University Veterans Incubator Ribbon Cutting, at Veterans Future Lab in Brooklyn; and at 6:30 p.m. she will be in Buffalo to congratulate inductees at the inaugural Business First WNY Hall of Fame Ceremony, art the Buffalo History Museum.

On Monday, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña is Mott Haven Community High School, where she will "visit a new AP class, a Career and Technical Education class, and a recording studio at a transfer school in the Bronx."

At 10 a.m. Monday, the Assembly Standing Committees on Small Business and Economic Development will meet jointly in Albany for an oversight hearing regarding “the economic development programs that leverage state funds to translate technology advancements into viable long-term business development and economic growth.”

At 10 a.m. Monday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council Member Corey Johnson, and the National Supermarket Association will hold a rally at the City Hall steps to call for an end to Manhattan’s commercial rent tax.

On Monday at noon outside Governor Cuomo’s Manhattan office, “climate activists and concerned New Yorkers will form a picket line outside Governor Cuomo’s Manhattan office and call on him to halt all fracking infrastructure projects in the state, and begin a rapid transition from fossil fuel to 100 percent renewable energy....This New York City event is part of a statewide week of action to launch a major new campaign to push Governor Cuomo to move New York away from fossil fuels as fast as possible.”

At 6 p.m. Monday, the Association for a Better New York will host a panel discussion at New Lab in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, exploring “policies and actions New York can do today to position itself as the most attractive and competitive place for major employers” such as Amazon, but also “beyond Amazon.” The panel will consist of Juliette Michaelson of the Regional Plan Association, Bishop Mitchell Taylor of Urban Upbound, Serkan Piantino of Spell, and Jed Walentas of Two Trees Management. The panel will open with remarks from Michael Rudin of Rudin Management Company.

At 6 p.m. Monday evening there will be a forum for City Council speaker candidates focused on "the candidates’ policy priorities, strategies to alleviate poverty in New York City, and proposals to strengthen the human services sector," and co-sponsored by FPWA, Catholic Charities, United Neighborhood Houses, UJA - Federation of NY, Human Services Council; and hosts The New School's Center for NYC Affairs and Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy. It will be moderated by Bill Ritter of ABC News.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host “Digital Democracy: How Technology Impacts Politics.” Matthew McGregor, who worked for Barack Obama, will discuss “how a mastery of technology, from real-time data analytics to quick draw social media, is the driving force of political campaigns today.”

At 7:15 p.m. Monday, Public Advocate Letitia James will attend the Higher Heights' "Moving to Higher Heights When #BlackWomenLead" at the Rainbow Room.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Governmental Operations will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to online voter registration. [Read: Online Voter Registration on Verge of Passage in New York City]
--The Committee on Youth Services will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “DYCD’s neighborhood development area (NDA) opportunity youth program.”
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

On Tuesday at 8 a.m. at NYU Wagner, "The Center for an Urban Future will hold a high-level symposium...Scaling Up Successful Workforce Development Programs in NYC." A "panel of experts that will analyze why so few of New York City’s most successful workforce development programs ever manage scale up and serve more New Yorkers." Panelists will be Plinio Ayala, President & CEO, Per Scholas; David Fischer, Founding Executive Director, NYC Center for Youth Employment; Angie Kamath, University Dean for Continuing Education and Workforce Development, City University of New York; Abby Jo Sigal, Founding CEO, HERE to HERE; Stacy Woodruff, Director, Workforce Field Building Hub, Workforce Professionals Training Institute; and moderator Christian González-Rivera, Senior Researcher, Center for an Urban Future.

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, City & State will host “Front Page Roundtable Series: Real Estate” at the New York Institute of Technology, discussing urban issues of land use, zoning, planning, and development, among other things. City & State editor Jon Lentz and Real Deal reporter Kathryn Brenzel will moderate a panel consisting of Council Member David Greenfield, chair of the Land Use Committee; Council Member Jumaane Williams, Chair of the Housing and Buildings Committee; Purnima Kapur, Executive Director of the Department of City Planning; and Molly Park, Deputy Commissioner for Development at HPD.

On Tuesday, "Public Advocate Letitia James will host a tenant rally and release the 2017 Worst Landlord Watchlist. Following the rally, Public Advocate James will tour buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn on this year’s Watchlist." The rally will be at 10 a.m. at Foley Square.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction will meet at 321 S William St in Newburgh, Orange County to “examine the issues facing communities in the wake of increased heroin abuse.”

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Senate Public Forum on Climate Change and Community Protection will meet at CUNY Law School in Long Island City, Queens to “provide an open forum for experts in the climate change community to craft the most accurate version of a comprehensive act relating to climate change and community protection.”

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Public Advocate Letitia James will join the Association for a Better New York for their “What’s On Tap” happy hour series, at the Dark Horse in the Financial District.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Make the Road NY, JustLeadershipUSA, the Working Families Party, Citizen Action, Vocal NY, and Change the NYPD will host a forum for City Council Speaker candidates focusing on “police accountability, closing Rikers, and criminal justice reform” at Columbia University’s Horace Mann Hall. Dr. Christina Greer, Fordham University political science professor, will moderate.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Riders Alliance will hold a meeting discussing “next steps in our campaign to fix the subway.”

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, City Council Member Dan Garodnick, State Senator Liz Krueger, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, and others will host a public forum on the Reproductive Health Act, currently held up in the State Senate. The forum will take place at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Proshansky Auditorium.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Health will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to “the documentation of annual water tank inspections and the reporting of such inspections.”
--The Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “Enforcement of Local Law 17 of 2011 and the Regulation of Pregnancy Service Centers.”
--The Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to “the inclusion of information on registration of rent-stabilized units and housing affordability programs on real property tax bills” and to “requiring the Department of Finance to provide new homeowners with information about real property taxes and exemptions.”
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Committees on Public Safety and Oversight & Investigations will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing “examining the office of Inspector General for the NYPD.”

At 11 a.m. Wednesday, the Senate Standing Committee on Civil Service will meet at 250 Broadway in Manhattan to discuss “the denial of accidental disability applications from those who participated in the World Trade Center rescue, recovery and clean up.”

The full City Council will meet at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. The meeting will be prefaced by a press conference hosted by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, the Daily News and City & State will host the “Politics of Food Conference” at the New York Institute of Technology, convening “over 250 top chefs, policy makers, innovators and leaders from diverse fields to uncover and assess the most important issues and trends affecting the nourishment of our New York.” New York State Agriculture Department Commissioner Richard Ball will deliver keynote remarks. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will sit on a panel at 10 a.m. on “nutrition and sustainability.”

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal and State Senator Brad Hoylman will host a panel discussion on childhood sexual assault, and how “New York State can better help protect your children from harm.” The event will take place at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Friday and the weekend
No events on our radar as of Sunday night.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

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